Experience Key, as Flaherty Named Health Agent

            The Marion Board of Health and Town Administrator Jay McGrail wish they could hire both of the finalists for the part-time health-agent position that was created with the retirement of Karen Walega as a shared health director of the recently dissolved Marion-Rochester Health District.

            After May 21 interviews with Anna McEntee and David Flaherty and some deliberation by the board, Flaherty was hired for the job.

            “(Flaherty) would hit the ground running. Anna’s bright and certainly pleasant, but David would be able to help from day one taking over in a challenging environment,” stated Board of Health Vice Chairperson Dr. Ed Hoffer during the deliberations that followed both interviews.

            Flaherty, who has already been working successfully for Marion on a consulting basis, will report directly to McGrail. His official hire was pending successful negotiations.

            According to McGrail, Marion was outsourcing restaurant and pool inspections under the district-era plan and paying the now-defunct health district $60,000 per year. The new part-time salary, he said, was expected to fall in the $30,000 range. “I think the town is going to save some money at least in the short term,” he said.

            Flaherty has worked in public health for 18 years, as a health agent, a health inspector of Title 5 installations, including work as a certified pool operator. He also worked with Walega in Wareham on emergency preparation planning, disaster-mitigation training and with an incident command system. In Raynham, he worked in the area of communicable diseases.

            “I love public health. There’s something new every day, something different,” said Flaherty in his interview. “It’s a way to help the community,” on the business end with food safety, “keeping the town healthy and happy.”

            Flaherty’s career had taken him into the administrative end because there were needs and he agreed to fill vacant roles, but he wanted to get back to public health and Marion held that opportunity.

            Board of Health Chairperson John Howard asked McGrail if any information from Flaherty’s previous jobs gave him concern. McGrail explained an awkward situation from several months ago in which Flaherty was hired as assistant town administrator in Harwich. The town administrator made the hire, but the town’s Board of Selectmen voted against it. Flaherty had given Raynham his notice and the window closed on him returning to that job.

            “I don’t know that any of that was Dave’s fault,” said McGrail.

            McEntee, 27, lacks some of Flaherty’s experience and credentials but made a very strong impression.

            “They’re two really well-qualified people. I think either one of them would do a great job,” said board member Dot Brown, who would ultimately agree with Hoffer’s position. “I think they both hit (their second interviews) out of the park. David has done more of the actual job, Anna has done quite a bit of it. Being part of a team, I think she would be great at that.”

            McGrail, who checked on Flaherty’s references and reported positive responses across the board, identified with McEntee’s situation.

            “I know Dave, if he came in tomorrow, he’d do a fantastic job,” said McGrail. “I feel for Anna. I know what it’s like to need a shot. I want to board to know if we hired Anna, we would still need to use Coastal Engineering for a while to do the sanitation piece. I wish there was a way we could (hire) both of them.”

            McGrail later reiterated his own situation of not having exact matching experience. “If the town hadn’t taken a chance on me, I wouldn’t be here,” he said.

            McEntee has a degree in environmental science, and has assisted sanitarians in Barnstable County conducting pool and restaurant inspections. Despite being laid off from multiple part-time jobs in the field, the Sandwich native has remained positive and industrious, working 20-30 hours a week as a nanny. A professional singer with a band, McEntee sings at funerals in Falmouth. Having eight siblings, along with many nieces, nephews, and in-laws, has been “invaluable” to her personal growth and ability to function in a team environment.

            McEntee was considered a potentially great addition to Marion’s team, but Flaherty also proved through his references and experience that he works well with others.

            “I always tell people if I don’t have the answer, I know who to call to get the answer,” said Flaherty, identifying lead-determination inspection as an area he would seek expert assistance.

            Brown asked Flaherty how he would handle a business owner insistent on opening its doors against the current guidelines. Flaherty said he would engage that proprietor in a discussion.

            “Not in a derogatory way,” Flaherty answered that he would seek explanation and an example of protective measures. If he did not receive a satisfactory answer, he would tell the business owner they should wait until the next phase on the governor’s reopening calendar. And, if that doesn’t work, he said he would tell the business owner, “’You’re welcome to explain yourself to the Board of Health.’

            “I’ll give them every opportunity to explain themselves and, if they don’t want to play nice, we’d go to fines or citations, however you want to handle it.”

            While both candidates made a strong impression, the overriding sense among the members of the board was that the occasion of the COVID-19 pandemic prioritized the more experienced candidate.

            “It’s hard to walk away from somebody who can start on the ground running,” said Brown.

            “Anna is a great lady from a great family, but in terms of what we need especially now I think Dave is ready and, with his own consulting work, he’s comfortable taking the part-time job,” said Howard.

            McGrail said he was impressed with Flaherty’s respectful manner, especially considering his experience. He reported to the board that Flaherty came recommended by Dave Mason, the health agent in Sandwich with whom McGrail worked for two years. “That counts for a lot,” he said.

            Howard, who had experience with municipal government in Wareham, said that he had never heard anything negative about Flaherty.

            Brown made the motion to authorize McGrail to offer the job to Flaherty. Hoffer seconded the motion and the ayes were unanimous. “I’m going to try to get him to start next week. We need the help,” said McGrail.

            Howard thanked Brown, McGrail, and Assistant Town Administrator Judy Mooney for their work in the interview process.

            Being below the 20-hour threshold, the job is not a benefits position. “Up over time it may become that, but right now it’s not,” said McGrail.

            Public Health Nurse Kathleen Downey asked the board who will serve as the department head. Brown suggested more work needs to be done before that decision should be made.

            Brown noted that one other candidate under serious consideration wanted full-time work in the immediate and that, while both finalists were willing to transition into a full-time role, neither made it a prerequisite for candidacy.

            On Tuesday, June 16, the Board of Health will hold a 6:00 pm public hearing regarding the proposed septic-system regulation.

Marion Board of Health

By Mick Colageo

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